High-Def Isn't Just for Guys

HGTV wants to prove HD is for women, too

The sales staff at Best Buy waits for the big games to bring in the big crowds of men; sporting events look great in high-definition. Now, HGTV is hoping high-def pictures of a renovated kitchen or a newly landscaped yard hold the same kind of allure for women.

This week at the NCTA show, Scripps Networks launches HGTV-HD and will announce both cable and satellite distribution deals. Scripps' Food Network-HD is set to launch in June.

“All of our content is very, very suited to high-def,” says Judy Girard, HGTV president, promising to “bring a female audience to the technology.”

About 70% of HGTV's audience is female, Girard says. High-def, meanwhile, has a case of male-pattern viewing.

“I think men are early adopters of almost any technology on almost any platform that has ever been introduced, and HD is no different,” Girard says. “Usually, technology is driven by sports and action movies and so forth, but females will come in. I think we have good female appeal, and obviously that appeals to the operators.”

Kagan Research associate analyst Patrick Johnson agrees. “Sports and movies in particular tend to be big draws” for HD service, he says, but HGTV and Food Network could find they have an HD audience.

“In general, everything I see is geared toward men. It's consumer electronics, and the bigger the better,” says Johnson. “However, I've seen surveys that say women are playing a bigger role in the decision-making and the purchasing of HD sets. It's because it goes to the aesthetics of the interior of the home and they're flat panels and they're kind of cool looking.”

In other words, you could see as many or more women buying HD sets to improve their décor than sitting down and watching HGTV-HD shows about … improving their décor.

Johnson says there are currently about 5.5 million HD subscribers in the U.S. between cable and satellite services, a number that is expected to nearly double this year alone. Girard won't specify how many homes HGTV-HD will reach initially, and with more deals expected after the launch, she says, the real distribution picture won't be clear until the end of the year. Many cable systems just don't have the room to add a lot of bandwidth-eating HD channels, but they will in time.

Girard is betting that HD offers particular benefits for the HGTV viewer. “It's anything you want to see in more detail, clarity and depth,” she says. “There aren't many shows on our network that won't pop in high-def. It's a richer experience.”

Adds Sarah Cronan, HGTV senior VP, “When you talk about painting, for instance, you do see the richness of the color. When you go into landscape shows, you can see the pattern and texture of the plants.”

HGTV-HD will have a schedule that's distinct from HGTV's standard channel. Although many series will mirror their time slots on the standard channel, different episodes will be shown in HD.

“Some of the feedback that we got from operators was that they want these [HD] channels to be different,” Girard says, “so that people will both purchase and watch them and think of them as a new offering, not an upgraded technical offering of an existing service.”

Programs from Scripps' other networks, DIY and Fine Living, will appear on HGTV-HD, but there are no immediate HD plans for those two networks.

Scripps has been producing shows in HD for more than two years, piling up 750 hours of programming. While Scripps had to replace much of its equipment for the 1080-line interlace HD standard, 90% of its programming is produced by outside firms. Initial decisions about which shows were shot in HD were sometimes driven by which producers were HD-capable, Girard says.

Fittingly, production changes required for HD production include some very décor-centric issues, says Duke Hartman, COO of High Noon Entertainment, which produces many shows for Scripps.

“Lighting, which is always crucial, becomes even more important, [as does] attention to detail about what's in the background on the set,” Hartman says. “Standard-definition is pretty forgiving about things like scuff marks on the set.”